St. Raymond of Peñafort
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
July 15, 2012
Today’s second reading begins with one of the most lyrically and theologically beautiful texts in the Bible, taken from the first words of St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.
The first part of the reading in the form of a Canticle, and may have been written to be sung or recited by the early Christians—it has, in fact, been that for centuries in the Church as part of the chants of the liturgy of the hours. The second part is sort of a commentary on the first. But throughout we discover wonderful and essential teachings of the Church.
It’s main theme is that Christ is the center, reason and fulfillment for everything. It says the Father “has blessed us in Christ,” “adopt[ed]” us “through Christ” and “granted us” “his grace” “in the beloved” Christ. “In him [Christ] we have redemption by his blood.” All is a part of the Father’s plan, “a plan for the fullness of times, to sum up all things in Christ, in heaven and on earth.”
Without Christ, there is nothing. With Christ, we have “the riches of his grace…lavished upon us.” This is the heart of the Christian life and faith.
We celebrate this fundamental reality every Sunday, and in fact at every Mass —the canticle’s Eucharistic overtones are powerful. In particular, the Eucharistic prayer is absolutely about this, especially the first Eucharistic prayer, the Roman Canon.
It begins: “To you, therefore, most merciful Father, we make humble prayer and petition through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord:” It goes on to say the refrain “through Christ our Lord” multiple times, including as we pray that we “may be filled with every grace and heavenly blessing. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.”
And at the very heart of the prayer the bread and wine become Christ’s Body and Blood through Him, through his actions and words. And the prayer ends with, the powerful summary of the miracle that has taken place: “Through him, and with him, and in him, …almighty Father, …all glory and honor is yours, for ever and ever.”
This is the heart of our faith and life, and of the Mass.
Thank the merciful Lord that he has given us St. Paul and this beautiful text so that we should never lose sight this sublime truth and always let it inform the rest of our faith in Christ.
But, think about what we would lose if we didn’t have this text. Or if we didn’t have the rest of the letter to the Ephesians, or the other letters of the New Testament, and the Gospels themselves. If somehow they’d been lost or discarded by the early Christians.
You know, in the early Church neither this letter, or any of the books we now call the “New Testament,” were automatically considered as inspired Scripture.
And there were also different interpretations given to this and other texts, as there have been through the centuries. For example, one extreme interpretation is that it’s poetic setting tells us that it’s not meant to be read with theological precision, so that Christ really isn’t the center of things, so that he’s is not really essential to salvation.
These are the kind of huge problems we can run into, even in a wonderful text like this. How do we solve these problems? And how do we know which letters are inspired and belong in the Bible?
Some say, well the Holy Spirit guides each of us to understand these things. But that’s not what the early church thought.
Remember, on the first Pentecost, the day the Holy Spirit descended on the first Christians, it wasn’t to the Holy Spirit inside of themselves that each Christian looked to teach them what God had in mind. Rather, as the Acts of the Apostles tells us: “they devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles….”
And as St. Paul goes on to write to the Ephesians, the Church is: “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone….” Again, the fundamental centrality of Christ, but now also the foundational quality of the apostles.
If the apostles said it, the first Christians believed it. Why? Because as St. Mark tells us in today’s Gospel: “Jesus summoned the Twelve and began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over unclean spirits.” Some people think the “authority” Jesus gave them was merely to cure the sick, but if we look carefully at the end of the text it tells us first: “So they went off and preached….” In fact, in St. Matthew’s account of this event Jesus commands them: “preach as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’”
Later Jesus makes this delegation of his authority permanent, first making Peter the first Pope, in Matthew 16:
“you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
And then, in Matthew 18, he extends the power to bind and loose to all 12 of the apostles together.
And that authority would not end with the death of the 12: the Scriptures make clear that others succeeded them in authority as apostles and bishops: first Matthias, then men like Barnabas, Timothy and Mark, and of course, St. Paul himself.
And it didn’t end with the apostolic age, but comes down to us through the successors of the apostles. And St. Irenaeus of Lyons would write in 180AD: “the faith preached to men, …comes down to our time by means of the successions of the bishops.”
Still, some Christians don’t agree with this, even some who call themselves Catholics. Unfortunately, since popes and bishops have been very patient with dissenters over the last 50 years, many Catholics have come to think that dissent is okay. It is not: as Jesus said: “a house divided against itself will not stand.”
Some of this dissent is willful and intentional, but most of it is simply due to ignorance: most Catholics today have simply not been taught some of the most basic truths of the faith.
So for the last 20 years or so there’s been a strong push to re-catechize adults and to improve the quality of the catechesis of our children. And by “improve” I mean present the actual authoritative teaching of the Popes and bishops in union with him.
To help pastors to focus on their responsibility to teach the true Catholic faith, the rite of installation of pastors requires new pastors to publically proclaim, under oath, a Profession of Faith, that begins with the Creed we say at Mass, and concludes by affirming faith in the all the infallible doctrine taught by the Pope and Bishops, and submission to all their official teachings.
This last May Bishop Loverde decided it was a good idea to extend this public profession of faith to all the catechists and religion teachers in the parishes. I, along with the vast majority of the priests of the diocese, wholeheartedly agree. After all, the catechists—CCD teachers— are helping me do my job of teaching the faithful, and if my profession of faith helps me to focus on this responsibility, then why wouldn’t that also be helpful to my assistants, the catechist?
Now, I have no doubt that all of the catechists here at St. Raymonds will happily make that profession next September: they want to teach the Catholic faith not the “Me” faith.
Unfortunately, this last Thursday the Washington Post published a front page story about five CCD teachers at St. Ann’s in Arlington who refuse to make the profession of faith.
Now, this is the Washington Post, so I wasn’t surprised that the article was saturated with the Post’s standard anti-Catholic bigotry. I mean, how convenient to find a dissenting priest who would not so subtly compare Bishop Loverde to the Nazis. And how did a story about just 5 catechists out of the thousands in the diocese merit front page coverage?
But besides that, it was just bad reporting. I could go on and on, but let me just focus on a few of the key errors.
First of all, the Post writes that all teachers are required: “to submit “will and intellect” to all of the teachings of church leaders.” The Post seems to imply is that Catholics would have to accept every little thing a particular bishop or group of bishops might teach, even if it were absolutely irrational and unprecedented.
Not so. The profession is talking only about doctrines which are presented by the Pope or by all the bishops acting with the Pope— in such a way that they clearly intend to be official. All this really is like when I’m sick and I think my symptoms point to a cold, but all the doctors I consult say I have pneumonia. I don’t agree with them, but they’re the experts, so I “submit” to their decision.
The Post goes on to say that, “[the] ‘profession of faith’ asks teachers to commit to ‘believe everything’ the bishops characterize as divinely revealed.”
Not quite. The profession says: “I also believe everything …which the Church, either by a solemn judgment or by the ordinary and universal Magisterium, sets forth to be believed as divinely revealed.”
Friends, this is straight out of Vatican II, the language the council used [in Lumen Gentium] to define infallible teaching: teaching that is from God and cannot change. So it’s not simply what “the bishops characterize as divinely revealed,” as if one day the bishops might get together and say, “hey, let’s make a new doctrine.” Rather it’s talking about what doctrines the bishops simply repeat that have “been handed down” to them as the constant infallible teaching of the Church.
Finally, the article quotes several of the dissenting Catechists and one smart-alec priest at Notre Dame who keep singing the refrain: bishops make mistakes.
So what’s new? I mean, Bishop Loverde, God bless him, approved the designs for this beautiful church, but that included a lighting system where you can’t change a single light bulb without spending $20,000 for scaffolding. He didn’t know that, not his fault, but still, a mistake.
But we’re not talking about the mistakes they make in ordinary every day decisions. And we’re not talking about individual bishops, or even all the bishops alive today. We’re talking about the deposit of faith, the truth entrusted to the apostles and handed down and protected by the Holy Spirit, so that “the gates of hell shall not prevail against” the Church built by Jesus Christ.
Now, some clever parishioner might look at today’s first reading and say, but Father, in that reading the priest Amaziah tries to silence Amos, a simple layman: “I was no prophet,” Amos says, “I was a shepherd and a dresser of sycamores.” But God sent that layman to the priest to prophesy. Isn’t that just what the dissenting catechist are doing to Bishop Loverde?
Not at all. If you think about it, the priest Amaziah is a heretical priest —for hundereds of years God had forbidden any temple to be built outside of Jerusalem, but Amaziah was a priest of the Temple of Bethel. Amos, on the other hand, was sent by God from Jerusalem to uphold the ancient teachings against the dissenters in Bethel.
Amos is actually the exact opposite of the Post’s dissenting catechists. In fact, he’s more like the one faithful Catechist quoted in the Post, who said: “If you’re struggling with something, fine, [but] don’t teach.”
Today scripture reveals two great truths. The first truth is that Jesus Christ is the center of the universe, and it is God’s eternal will that only through and in Christ can we enter into the glory of heaven. And the second truth is that Christ has sent his apostles and their successors to teach us this first truth and every other
truth of his Gospel. He has not left us to false priests like Amaziah, but to Peter and His apostles and their faithful successors, the bishops.
As we turn, now, to our Lord Jesus in the Holy Eucharist, let us remember the teaching of St. Paul and open our hearts to receive every grace and heavenly blessing Christ lavishes on us, in the wondrous truths of our faith, and in this sacrament.
And let us recommit ourselves to accepting and sharing the ancient Catholic and apostolic teaching proclaimed first in Jerusalem, then in Rome, and now in the Diocese of Arlington.
And let us do all this, and all things, always, through him, and with him, and in him.